Texas Heat-Related Deaths Hit Record High in 2022 Amid Climate Change and Migration

According to a Texas Tribune analysis of data going back to 1999, heat-related deaths in Texas reached an all-time high last year.

Texas experienced its second-hottest summer on record during the state’s worst drought in more than ten years.

Climate change has increased the risk of extreme temperatures across Texas, resulting in higher overall temperatures and summer heat that starts earlier in the spring and lasts longer into the fall. As a result, people are more likely to experience heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported at least 279 heat-related deaths last year, the highest number since at least 1999. Among these deaths, 137 were residents, many of whom were Texans experiencing homelessness or without air conditioning. Moreover, more than half of heat-related deaths, or 142 deaths, were “non-residents” who were mostly migrants.

Migration experts, advocates, and local officials state that the state’s data is still likely a dramatic undercount of the actual number of heat-related deaths among migrants.

Heat-related deaths among migrants are mostly attributed to border enforcement policies that have forced migrants away from preferred crossing points in urban areas towards increasingly remote and dangerous routes. Title 42, a public health emergency order issued in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, also increases the number of migrant crossings.

As the number of migrants apprehended at the border continues to set records, the number of migrant deaths also has reached new highs.

The U.S. Border Patrol reported locating 853 bodies along the entire U.S.-Mexico border in the 2022 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. Texas also often sees the highest number of recorded migrant deaths among the four states bordering the U.S.-Mexico border, which also include New Mexico, Arizona and California.

In addition to the high number of migrant deaths, the number of heat-related deaths is also a concern.

The state data is still likely a dramatic undercount of the actual number of heat-related deaths, and they have reached a two-decade high. With climate change causing higher temperatures and the growing number of migrants crossing the border, policymakers need to act to mitigate these issues.

The increasing number of heat-related deaths and migrant deaths should serve as a wake-up call to those in power to make necessary changes that can prevent further loss of life.

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